PAIGE Kesemeyer has very clear memories of the best gift she ever received – a roof over her head and crisp new sheets on a bed she could call her own.
And that is why she is hoping that people will read her story and make a special Christmas donation to South Yorkshire youth homelessness charity Roundabout.
Paige what she described as a normal childhood until she was about eight or nine and then things began to go wrong when her family started to experience problems.
“Dad went to prison, mum had a lot of mental health problems and would go missing at weekends,” recalls Paige.
“I cared for my younger siblings and missed a lot of education. I started to think it was normal to have no clean socks or underwear and no food on the table.”
There came a point, she recalls, when she realised she was no longer part of a secure family unit, culminating in her making desperate calls to Childline and Social Services – a decision that had serious consequences.
“My mum kicked me out and my dad was in one of his bad phases just out of prison, so I was 17 and really had nowhere to go.
“In desperation I used my boyfriend’s phone to Google youth hostels in Sheffield – and first up was Roundabout.”
Roundabout supports people aged 16 to 25 in South Yorkshire who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – and for Paige the charity provided the lifeline that helped her to turn her life around.
“I arrived at the Roundabout hostel in the middle of the night, with a few black bags of some clothes and keepsakes I treasured,” she says,
“A Roundabout worker showed me to my new room and I had a single bed, a side table, a wardrobe and some drawers. But the thing that stuck out to me was the stuff they gave me – clean bedding, a fresh towel and some toiletries. Something as small as a clean set of bedding made me realise what I had been experiencing was not normal.
“I just want to stress how much that bedding actually meant – it sounds really strange to hear someone say ‘bedding changed my life’ but it was my bedding, it was for me.”
Clean sheets, though, were only a part of the package that helped Paige to rediscover a sense of self worth – there was the feeling of being safe and secure, knowing she could have a warm shower when she needed it, that she could have breakfast and get a clean pair of socks out of her own drawer.
“Roundabout helped me, they took me in when I had nowhere to go and they showed me that life doesn’t always need to be so hard. They validated my perception of the world – that people did care.” And with Roundabout’s continued support, she continued to build a new, successful and happy life.
Today, ten years on, she is herself a mother and, after gaining the GCSEs and A-levels she never achieved at school, she now has both an Undergraduate and Masters degree and is training for a career in education. “The house I live in would not have been my home if I didn’t make that call that night and my son wouldn’t have had his first Christmas in a clean flat for the same reason,” Paige says.
“That night changed my life forever and I have never gone back – having that support and knowing there is security out there just means everything.
“My son now thinks it is normal to go to university, it is normal to have food on the table and have clean sheets on the bed when you need them.
“Young people who come to Roundabout don’t have that perception but the charity helps change that like it did for me.
“That’s why I would urge people to donate to Roundabout this Christmas. If you were the person that donated to buy me those sheets then thank you, you helped to change my life.”
Roundabout works with more than 250 young people every day, providing shelter, support and life skills to help them gain independence. The length of stay at the hostel is dependent on the needs of the individual, but can be up to 12 months.
While there, residents are given opportunities to learn life skills to improve their independence, gain employment or training opportunities and improve their confidence and self-esteem
Roundabout also has five self-contained flats, providing a home for eight young people who have the same support as young people in the hostel, but they will have started or are working towards some form of education, training or employment.
Roundabout Chief Executive Ben Keegan said: “We want to thank Paige for the incredible way in which she chose to share her story.
“There is a stigma attached to homelessness that means very often people prefer not to talk about their painful and disturbing experiences.
“Paige’s story demonstrates the way in which Roundabout was able to help a young person who felt they had nowhere to go.
“For us, as for every other charity, 2020 has been a particularly difficult year but we have managed to maintain our services by adapting and following government guidelines.
“Most of all, though, we could not have continued without the backing of the many wonderful people, businesses and organisations who have supported us so enthusiastically throughout the pandemic.”
Roundabout is part of the End Youth Homelessness (EYH) partnership, which is a national movement aiming to end youth homelessness in the UK.